In my last post, I discussed the mechanics of breastfeeding and how the oral actions that take place when a baby breastfeeds stimulate proper growth and development of the palate, jaw and oral musculature giving baby a better chance at straight teeth in the future. Now we’ll move on to the introduction of solid foods for the infant and eating into the toddler years.
Current recommendations suggest waiting until your baby is at least 6 months old before adding solid foods, but you may even wait until 7-8 months old if your baby is not yet showing much interest in solid food. If you’re a parent, what first foods were you told to begin feeding your infant? You probably heard the most common recommendation: rice cereal. Unfortunately, rice cereal is pretty devoid of nutrition and provides no oral stimulation to eat. (But wait, rice cereal is fortified with iron that my baby needs! I’ll address this later…) After that, you were likely told to offer your baby all kinds of mashed and pureed foods like sweet potatoes, squash, bananas and avocado, or that you could purchase jarred baby foods. Moving into the toddler years, I see a lot of toddlers filling up on Cheerios or other cereals, graham crackers, Goldfish crackers, toddler cookies and sometimes yogurt, ya know…”kid food”. Unfortunately again, after the age of two, most parents have been told to move to low-fat or non-fat dairy products, so parents buy convenient yogurt cups for their kids, often in fruity flavors or with fruit-on-the-bottom (which should really be called fruit-syrup-on-the-bottom). As I discussed in this post, low-fat/non-fat dairy is higher in sugar. Add that to all those cereals and crackers toddlers are eating, (carbohydrates, which are converted to sugar in the body when eaten), and it’s easy to see that our toddlers are running on sugar! Toddlers are lacking the nutrients they need for proper growth and all this sugar is putting them on the insulin roller coaster all day long. And what happens when we are carbohydrate/sugar dependent and our insulin crashes? We get hungry and cranky! Hmmm…could this be the source of some of those toddler tantrums and meltdowns???
So, what and how should we be feeding our infants and toddlers? First off, opt for REAL FOOD whenever you can. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time believing that I will need to feed my infant rice cereal…a product that comes in a box, was made in a factory and has synthetic vitamins and minerals that were made in a lab added to it to make it “nutritious”. I agree that sweet potatoes, squashes, bananas and avocadoes are great options for infants getting started on solid foods. Feel free to add a little pastured butter or coconut oil to those mashed sweet potatoes and squashes to up the nutrient level and absorption of those nutrients. The added fat will also fill up baby more. As for bananas, try giving your baby half the banana to hold and eat rather than mashing. Many babies at 6 months of age, or definitely by 7-8 months of age, can hold food and feed themselves, so let them. Let baby gnaw on the banana. This gnawing action, along with the action of them opening wide to put the banana in their mouth, will stimulate those oral muscles for proper growth and development. You can do the same with avocado. Many parents worry about choking risk doing this, but a baby will gnaw at a banana or chunk of avocado and actually be mashing it up themselves; they run a greater risk of choking with small, cut-up pieces of food that they could inhale and get lodged in their esophagus.
But what about iron? Great choices to include in baby’s first foods that are iron-rich are egg yolks and liver. For a long time, parents have been advised to avoid feeding babies eggs until after age 1 to prevent allergies, however, it is typically the egg white that is the allergenic part of the egg. The solution? Hard boil eggs, remove the white and just give baby the yolk. Of course, monitor your baby for any adverse reactions, just like you would with any new food you introduce, and if baby has a reaction, wait a couple months and try the food again to see if baby still has a reaction. Liver is another great choice for babies. The best way to serve it to infants just starting out on solid foods is to make liver pate. Scoop some on a plate or right onto the tray of their high chair and let them pick up bits of it and feed themselves. As they get a couple months older, they can eat cooked liver, fish such as halibut and salmon which cook up very soft and easy for baby to chew and “gum”. Keep adding new foods for baby to try as their palates develop and as they get more teeth.
As for toddlers, this will be a natural progression if you have allowed your baby to explore different foods and feed himself/herself rather than spoon-feeding your baby all those mashed and pureed foods. Often, we think we need to prepare everything for our infants and toddlers, but to ensure they are getting enough oral-mechanical stimulation for proper growth and development, we can really do less. For example, let’s take an apple, which could be served in several different ways:
Most parents feed their toddlers and young children cut-up pieces of apple or applesauce, but to best stimulate proper oral growth, don’t be afraid to give your toddler the whole apple…or a pear, cucumber, tomato, etc. In fact, many kids prefer this over cut-up food. This is how children did it for thousands of years before there were knives, blenders, food processors, etc. Hmmm…braces and Invisalign didn’t exist back then either…
For more on this topic from my “go-to” biomechanist, Katy Bowman, head over to her blog for a quick read on how and why she is doing this with her kiddos!
Here are a couple other great resources too:
The Right Way to Feed Babies – The Healthy Home Economist
And if you’re new to my blog and haven’t read how this all starts, check out the articles below!